SINCE 1908 RECALLS BOER WAR, JAMAICA QUAKE, CANAL BUILDING
The Panama Canal Review - March, 1952
A swagger stick and a smile - that's Fitz Herbert Alleyne Griffith. The swagger stick - the current one is of polished black palm - is a habit acquired in the nine years he spent in Queen Victoria's British Army before he came to work for the Isthmian Canal Commission way back in 1908. The smile is just a part of him.
Griffith was 73 years old March 2, just two days after he was retired from his job of many years, driving a truck which hauled lumber to repair Pacific side houses. With the exception of a 15-day lay-off in the fall of 1908, when he switched from his first Canal Zone job as a carpenter for the Panama Railroad to the job he held for so many years, his service was unbroken.
When Griffith went to work as a teamster for the Motor Transportation Division on November 15, 1908, the Ancon "corral" was located near the site of the present Ancon post office. He worked with horses and mules, the latter just as stubborn as mules anywhere else in the world. Only way to get along with them, he recalls, was to let them know right off who was boss.
When the Division was motorized he became a chauffeur and was listed that way on the rolls during all his years of service.
SERVED IN AFRICA
Born in the Parish of St. Lucia in Barbados, Griffith went to school there. In 1899, when he was 20, he enlisted in the British Army. His day-by-day uniform was khaki but his dress uniform was really something to see: black trousers with yellow seams down the sides, a flannel coat and, for special occasions, a scarlet jacket.
The Boer war had just broken out, but it was only after some 18 months of training in Jamaica that Griffith's infantry unit was sent to Africa. They never got into the active fighting. They were held as a reserve component at Sierra Leone, where Africa's shoulder juts out into the Atlantic. In 1905 Griffith was made a corporal bombardier in the Royal Artillery, earning "one and sixpence a day." Two years later, and a year after he had been returned to Jamaica, nature took a hand in ending Griffith's military career. One of Port Royal's frequent earthquakes destroyed most of the artillery's guns. This led to the disbanding of one of the two artillery companies stationed there.
Griffith went back to Barbados and then to Demarara, British Guiana, for a while. His brother was working in the Canal Zone and Griffith decided to come here. He landed in Cristobal on March 11 and two days later was at work.
ANCON AS IT WAS IN 1908
When he went to work in the Ancon Corral, the Ancon commissary was a "little shack" near the present police station, where cold storage was distributed every day. The Ancon post office was where it now stands but it was an old wooden building. The District Court was located about on the site of the present Ancon school. A gate across Gorgas Road, just about at the location of the present St. Luke's Cathedral, shut off the Ancon Hospital grounds.
One day in February 1928 Griffith was on his way to work when he found a revolver lying in the street near the Ancon post office. He picked it up and was examining it when it went off, the bullet passing through the index finger on his left hand. The revolver apparently belonged to a prowler who had been routed by police a short time earlier as he was trying to force his way into the old Ancon Masonic Temple.
Now that he is a retired man, Griffith doesn't know exactly how he will spend his time. He must care for his wife who has been blind for almost three years. He expects to find some chance to read the Scriptures and "figure the right and wrong of it," and he will also have more time for his three grandchildren, the sons and baby daughter of Joseph N. Griffith of the Industrial Bureau. As grandfather he enjoys them all, but he "favors" the five-year-old boy.
Presented by CZBrats
December 19, 1998